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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > Filmmaking > Car Racing > Film Industry > Politics > Racism > Genocide > Disease > You Don't Nomi (2019/on Showgirls/RLJ Blu-ray)

Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015/FilmRise*)/Target: Philadelphia (2020/IndiePix DVD)/To The Edge Of The Sky (2017*)/What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael (2020/Juno/*all MVD DVDs)/You Don't Nomi (2019/on Showgirls/RLJ Blu-ray)

Picture: C+/C/B-/C+/B- Sound: C+/C+/B-/C+/B- Extras: D/C-/D/C/D Documentaries: B/B-/B/B/B-

The following documentaries deal with some serious subject matter, as well as art, filmmaking and its politics...

We start with Gabriel Clarke & John McKenna's Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015) about how an actor now known as 'the king of cool' took his red hot box office status, star power and fought to make the ultimate racing car film. Many B-movies had been made (and still are, even now with overblown budgets) and sometimes, with a brain, such as one McQueen almost made, John Frankenheimer's big 70mm epic Grand Prix (1966, reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site and due for a 4K edition) but conflict with the makers led to McQueen stepping down. James Garner took over.

Without MGM and big large frame film cameras, he landed up landing his big dream project with the then-new ambitious production company Cinema Center and they gave him a then huge $6 Million to make the film that would be known as Le Mans (a good film despite its issues), but they had no script, though they did have veteran actor John Sturges, who helped put McQueen on the map.

The film goes into how out of the way McQueen wanted to go with the film to recreate the experience of racing even beyond what Frankenheimer did achieve and by using 35mm cameras with the latest color negative film and the film would be printed in real three-strip Technicolor (Grand Prix had MetroColor, which is almost as good, but not quite) and this documentary shows the highs, lows, twists and turns on how the film was made, went over-budget and was finally finished after a very, very long shoot.

To everyone's credit, it was a ton of hard work outside of the then-declining studio system and by some of the best talents available at the time. It also tells us about McQueen, those around him and how great his desire was to break old Hollywood conventions and formulas so his car film would be the best yet. Since then, few good car films have been made (Two Lane Blacktop, the original Vanishing Point and the recent Ford Vs. Ferrari being rare exceptions) and especially considering the glut of (usually awful) digital effects, Le Mans looks better than ever.

This is a rare chance to see the real Hollywood, real filmmaking, behind the scenes of thew industry at its best and more reasons McQueen is rightly an icon. Especially if you like anyone involved, this is a great documentary to catch.

There are no extras here, but another DVD version may have some and this needs a Blu-ray release.

Sean Slater's Target: Philadelphia (2020) tells the still-painful tale of how the U.S. Government (in the middle of the Ronald Reagan presidency) helped to bomb a big section of housing in Western Philadelphia because it was the home of the new MOVE organization, a left-wing group trying to fight for the rights of and help disenfranchised African Americans. The result was 11 people killed, including 3 children and a real mess as a result.

Still not really dealt with to this day, this 56 minutes long piece discusses it, shows multiple clips of it and related events, items and people, then works its way up to now in the possible reelection of Trump, the most blatantly racist president in a century. The makers have done their work and research, even including (to their credit) footnotes as if this were a college term paper. I did not always agree with what I heard and though many of the factual statements were overgeneral or just off, but I would say this has roughly 55% accuracy in what it is siting, talking about and explaining. An interesting piece, I would like to see an update in a few years.

A trailer and director's intro are the only extras.

To The Edge Of The Sky (2017) is a powerful documentary about four families who fight the FDA in an attempt to get access to a drug to treat Ducheene Muscular Dystrophy, which is a deadly disease their sons suffer from. The touching film follows each family and educates the audience about the disease and the hideous side effects of it.

The film is directed by Jedd and Todd Wider and is from the Producers of the Academy Award Winning Taxi to the Dark Side.

No extras.

The emotional film is a must see if you or a loved one suffers from his disease or if you are researching it. From a documentary filmmaking standpoint, the film is well done and interesting.

Rob Garver's What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael (2020) I s a documentary biography of the first important female movie critic in the U.S., how she got a slow, choppy start (sexism) and how sticking to her sometimes unpopular and non-conformist opinions kept her from finding an audience at first. We she how she was not able to deal with post-WWII writerly European films in her panning of classics from Aiain Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year At Marienbad), Michelangelo Antonioni (La Notte, et al) and others and a surprisingly negative review of still overrated megahit musical The Sound Of Music (1965) got her fired from a major venue.

Suddenly, the American New Wave of films hits and her review of Arthur Penn's Bonnie & Clyde (1967) saves the film Warner Bros. and Warren Beatty expected to be a hit to begin with. Suddenly, Kael was the hottest new critic and until the early 1980s (when she lost her way on odd reviews for the nine-hour Holocaust documentary Shoah and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (no matter what cut she saw), she was backing films that went over many critics' heads and putting them on the map, including Scorsese's Mean Streets and Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris and many others.

There are many other great moments here, but I do not want to ruin them, or get into who gets interviewed (Quentin Tarantino and Paul Schrader among them) and she is insightful in video, film and audio clips, while other works of hers are read anew. This includes quotes from several of her books. Needless to say this is a must-see for any serious film fan and I highly recommend it. I just wish it were longer.

Extras include Deleted Scenes pieces on Lynch's Blue Velvet, Kael's Youth, more interview footage of Tarantino and Schrader and never-before-heard conversation of Kael and Alfred Hitchcock.

Finally we have Jeffrey McHale's You Don't Nomi (2019), a look back at the big budget bomb that was and still is Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls (1995) 25 years later already. At the time, he was one of the most successful and bold filmmakers in Hollywood, even if some critics could not handle his cynicism, violence or sex, ticking off people all over the political spectrum as well. His friend, writer Joe Eszterhas was the highest paid writer in Hollywood at the time with high concept, sex-laced hits like Flashdance, Verhoeven's Basic Instinct and others. The film was either going to be groundbreaking on sex and sexuality or be a disaster. It was a big disaster.

I already explained at the time all the reasons I felt the film was a mega trainwreck, which y9ou can read more about at the link at the ned of this coverage, then I will add onto it to update my thoughts. This documentary tries to make sense of the film and finds hardly any a quarter century later and even the faint praise seems sarcastic or desperate, so we get a montage of film clips and points of view of what the film might be about or like, but the same can be said of so many other films.

The straight-to-video sequel is ignored, but the crude, campy stage musical remake is covered, several discussions of gay context is discussed (one tries to make it part of an unofficial trilogy that includes Valley Of The Dolls and Mommie Dearest, but they at least succeeded as bad melodramas to some extent, where this does not) and other ideas including that is it a masterwork of crap is unconvincing. Still, it is the long-term fallout (Verhoeven smartly accepting the Razzie Awards for the film, but not saying enough) and Verhoeven trying to say it was meant to be comical when he originally did not intend it as so and even Elizabeth Berkeley saying the same. I'm sure she went through a private hell over ti all, but in clips towards the end, I give her huge credit for owning it, not apologizing about it (she has nothing to be sorry for0 and embracing it in a personal triumph we were expecting her character to have on the big screen.

The point is, sometimes bad is just plain bad and this is one of those films, more apparent after you watch the 92 minutes of this documentary. So many greater films deserve more attention, but it is a reminde4r that Hollywood since the 1980s has made more awful, hideous big budget bombs than they want to admit and as long as they are not about much and meant to sell toys and junk, that is somehow fine. Showgirls was not selling hardly any tie-ins, so it should have taken all kinds of risks and it might have paid off. Eszterhas was obviously bored writing the script, it often feels like pages from a bunch of other scripts he forgot to throw out and just threw in anything that seems unchallenging, stupid or unwise and was ultimately the victim of his own success. At least Verhoeven continued to make good films.

There are sadly no extras, but you can read about my thoughts on Showgirls years ago at this link:


My new thoughts include how it was pretty arrogant for two heterosexual males to think they could write a telling film about non-white and non-male characters in a white-male world, but the film even fails to portray Las Vegas as a separate character like most great films that are set their (Scorsese's Casino (now in a great 4K disc), Elvis on Viva Las Vegas, Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever and even the great TV movie The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin all knew better) so this could have taken place in Reno, Atlantic City or Miami and would it have mattered?

For all the nudity, no one is very sexy and seems even desexed, like a bunch of robots, even before any bad acting. The dumb moments or dumb dialogue (or the rape scene which really pops out of nowhere and seems very desperate when and where it is placed in the film) is never honest, realistic or convincing. Berkeley did have the energy to her credit to do what she did here, something I dare say most actors or actresses would have had the energy or physical ability to do, even if it was way more wasted than it should have been.

Its MTV style (what there is of it) was in decline and especially in the Rap/Hip Hop era with its angrier and more urban style, the dancing looks dated, but also not like you would have seen in mostly Vegas productions not that time, leaving the choreography we see here in some surreal world that we have never seen much before and definitely (and thankfully!) since. I forgot to site the Jamie Lee Curtis/John Travolta dud Perfect as an influence on this film, but it is also great that no major film or music video I can name has tried to emulate it.

If the film had been groundbreaking and honest and actually had a storyline or even simple plot that worked, we would be talking maybe a disappointment from Verhoeven, but that he avoided director's jail for it being a bomb is rare, even if he left Hollywood after Starship Troopers was smarter than its audience (and some misguided critics) caught onto. It could have been a step forward for women in cinema, but when you get a film that fails in the ways this one did, it hurts all of cinema and when things go bad and get rolled back like they recently have (sometimes in the worst ways as this posts) you can fell the failure all the more. The missed opportunities are many and as tragic as the film's awfulness itself.

Now for playback performance. To The Edge of the Sky is presented in standard definition on DVD with an anamorphically enhanced, widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and a lossy English 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. The film is low budget but shot digitally and edited nicely, although as norm with the format there are some compression issues evident. The image quality varies with some arrival footage chosen, however, it doesn't detract too much from the overall feature.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Nomi is the only Blu-ray on the list and best performer by default, but despite the high quality of a few dozen movie clips, but older analog video of the time and some amateur video really show their age. Still, it is well edited and watchable enough. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is not bad, but often dialogue and interview based, so only expect so much, and older clips are barely stereo.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on McQueen and Kael look decent too and also have high quality film clips, but there are more markings on the behind the scenes film of making Le Mans than expected and some of the Kael footage is as old as anything on the list. They still look good, are very watchable and should be on Blu-ray. Both have lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound and are fine, though many films here (including Le Mans) are multi-channel stereo.

The 1.33 X 1 image on Target can be really rough, even considering that some if it is that way to start. All the documentaries have some rough footage including analog videotape flaws including video noise, video banding, telecine flicker, tape scratching, digititis, cross color, faded color and tape damage. Its just that Target is rougher more often, but makes its points. Still its lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound is monophonic or rough, so be careful of volume switching and high playback levels.

- Nicholas Sheffo and James Lockhart (Sky)



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